World Pancreatic Cancer Day - Inspiring Action

November 17, 2022

At least 8 Australians and more than 1,250 people worldwide are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer every day, with more than 80% aged over 60. November 15 is World Pancreatic Cancer Day, putting a spotlight on one of the world’s toughest cancers.

Bringing together more than 70 organisations from 30 countries and 6 continents, World Pancreatic Cancer Day raises awareness and inspires action. Through this combined effort, we bring greater attention, awareness, and better outcomes to this deadly disease, with the lowest survival rate of all primary cancers.

What is the Pancreas?

The pancreas is part of both the digestive (exocrine) system and the hormone-producing (endocrine) system. It is a long, flat gland about 13–15 cm long that lies between your stomach and spine.

The pancreas has two main functions:

  1. to help with digestion (exocrine),
  2. to control the amount of sugar in the blood through hormones (endocrine).

Exocrine (digestive) function – Groups of exocrine cells produce juices called enzymes that help break down food. The juices flow through the pancreatic duct from the pancreas into the duodenum (part of the small intestine). Most of the pancreas is made up of exocrine tissue.

Endocrine (hormone) function – Scattered among the exocrine tissue are small groups of endocrine cells. These release hormones that control the level of sugar in the blood – the hormone insulin decreases this level, while the hormone glucagon increases it.

The signs of Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer often doesn’t cause any outward signs or symptoms in the initial stages, which can make it hard to diagnose early. Unfortunately, little is known about the exact causes of pancreatic cancer, so it can be difficult to determine why some people get the disease and others don’t.

Research has identified some risk factors that identify a person who is more likely than others to develop pancreatic cancer.

Risk factors include:

  • smoking (cigarette smokers are about twice as likely to develop pancreatic cancer)
  • ageing
  • type 2 diabetes
  • obesity
  • pancreatitis (long-term inflammation of the pancreas)
  • certain types of cysts in the pancreatic duct known as intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasms (IPMNs) – an appropriate specialist should make this assessment
  • overconsumption of alcohol
  • 1 in 10 cases is a result of inherited genetic factors.

Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer

Symptoms of pancreatic cancer can also be vague and may come and go, while the severity can also vary for each person.

It is important to remember that more common illnesses may cause these symptoms and you should always speak to your medical practitioner if you have any concerns.

Conditions such as pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), gallstones, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or hepatitis (inflammation of the liver), can also present these symptoms.

Some of the symptoms that may indicate pancreatic cancer are:

  • jaundice – yellowish skin and eyes, dark urine, pale bowel motions and itchiness of the skin
  • indigestion (heartburn)
  • appetite loss
  • nausea or vomiting
  • unexplained weight loss
  • pain in the upper abdomen, side or back, which may cause you to wake up at night
  • changed bowel motions – including diarrhoea, severe constipation, or pale, foul-smelling stools that are difficult to flush away.

Don’t forget to wear purple on November 15, World Pancreatic Cancer day, to help raise awareness!

For more information on World Pancreatic Cancer day, visit:

As always, should you have any concerns, please do speak to your health care professional or doctor.